Christmas but a month away and….hark! are those “herald angels” singing in the far distance?
To be honest, it’s a little difficult to tell at present, what with the roar of the gale force 9 winds and incessant heavy rain battering the window panes and pavements.
The wild and woolly weather has certainly taken all but the most stubborn of leaves from the trees (its often the leaves right at the very tops of the trees that cling on I’ve noted) and brought in a few winter visitors to our supposedly mild and welcoming land.
I’ve (for a while) resisted blogging about waxwings’ (and the winter thrushes’) arrival with us recently – as I’ve been waiting to see my first waxwing of the year (there are hundreds and hundreds being reported from all over the country).
Well… I’ve not seen my first waxwing yet and I think Surrey and Berkshire are the only counties left in the entire British mainland to have not had confirmed static sightings of these Bohemian beauties (waxwings) this season, although they still are mainly to be found in the north and east of England and Scotland.
2010/11 was our last “waxwing year” when the berry crop failed in Scandinavia and thousands of birds crossed the North Sea to feast on our Rowan, Pyracantha and Cotoneaster. Normally we might not expect another year like that for up to a decade, but it seems that the berry crop has once again failed in the continent and along with jays (acorn crop failure) and bramblings (beech mast crop failure), we can expect a bumper show of hungry birds over this winter.
Of course (as I mentioned in another blog post I think), I don’t see that many rowan berries or cotoneaster berries or beech masts or acorns round our neck of the woods either (forget the crop failure on the continent) so I’m not sure just what our visiting feathered friends will actually be eating this Christmas.
I have seen my first fieldfare though – flying hard across the wet road, slate grey sky and horizontal rain last weekend, as Anna and I drove around the local farm looking for the little owl family. The little owls are hiding very well it seems – maybe they’ve finally spread their stubby little wings and flown to pastures (quite lidddderally “pastures”) new. I’m sure the adults will be back in a month or two to reclaim their territory from interested kestrels, crows and stock doves.
I’ve also heard my first fieldfares over the garden. We’ve had our cat-proof rigid pond liner delivered in the last week and I was just getting it into the right spot (ready to be dug in soon) under spitting stormy skies (again) when I heard the familiar clack-clack-clack of our bold winter thrushes, arriving from the north.
Their daintier red-winged cousins are still (of course) arriving in good numbers. Yesterday morning, as I de-steamed the car at 6am, under in a misty sodium streetlight glow, the air seemed to be full of “tseeping” redwing, mocking the blustery conditions. (The “tseeping” call heard from redwings at night on migratory journeys is a contact call after all, so when the conditions are blustery, they “tseep” more often to keep track of each other in the noisy dark).
I took an opportunity in an hour (or so) of dry, bright weather last weekend to check on the local barn owl’s roost (a hollow tree trunk which a single barn owl roosted in for a few weeks in the spring).
I wasn’t expecting to find an owl (or any signs of one to be fair), but a barn owl has certainly roosted in this hollow trunk since I last checked (after the barn owl left us in the summer).
Two fresh pellets were obvious (I couldn’t see right inside the hole though), and I suspect the barn owl is an occasional visitor at least – I will have to check more often…
Talking of white birds – an image burned into my mind this week sums up my recent thoughts on nature and the current seasonal weather.
It’s this time of year I think the sky is often at its most impressive. Unlike the rather dull pink or orange dawns and dusks of summer, in winter we can have bright yellow and purple sunsets (or dawns) with black clouds, blue skies and orange haze all in the same part of the sky. Add to that the large flocks of geese (or gulls or starlings or pigeons or finches or thrushes!) in such a multicoloured changing sky and there’s always something to gawp at up above it seems. Often I think (when the weather’s changeable at this time of year) that I seem to be stuck in a Peter Scott Painting.
During a lunch break from work t’other day, I drove through standing water and dual-carriageway tyre-spray to a local supermarket to pick up a round of sandwiches for lunch.
As I sat at a set of red traffic lights at the entrance to the supermarket, I noticed a white shape behind the blurry red droplets of water on the windscreen.
I wound down my window and watched as a beautiful snow-white little egret flapped across the dark grey urban sky, not making much progress against the wind as its long dark legs and dirty yellow feet stretched out behind it.
The droplets on my windscreen turned green and I drove away, but the snow white egret in the dark grey sky stayed with me. I can picture it vividly still now.